Lost in shuf­fle: Im­por­tance of a free and fair elec­tion process

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - Bal­ti­more Sun

For­mer spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller's long day of tes­ti­mony on Capi­tol Hill had all the el­e­ments one ex­pects of po­lit­i­cal the­ater in these par­ti­san times. Some day, schol­ars will have to an­a­lyze all the ques­tion­ing and de­ter­mine how much was pos­tur­ing by lawmakers and how much was ac­tual factfind­ing (or at least main­tained the ap­pear­ance of in­for­ma­tion gath­er­ing).

One imag­ines 2% would be a gen­er­ous es­ti­mate. And while there's cer­tainly value in Amer­i­cans hear­ing from the man-of-the-hour that Pres­i­dent Trump was not ac­tu­ally ex­cul­pated of wrong­do­ing (as much as he and his min­ions con­tinue to falsely claim oth­er­wise), the most im­por­tant point to be made showed up in the first 10 min­utes.

That was when Mueller, the for­mer FBI direc­tor, dec­o­rated U.S. Ma­rine Corps vet­eran, lawyer and long­time fed­eral prose­cu­tor, ob­served in his open­ing state­ment that Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion was real and se­ri­ous and re­sulted in crim­i­nal charges filed against more than 30 de­fen­dants in­clud­ing 12 of­fi­cers of the Rus­sian mil­i­tary.

“Over the course of my ca­reer, I've seen a num­ber of chal­lenges to our democ­racy,” he con­cluded in his best Joe Fri­day no-non­sense voice. “The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment's ef­fort to in­ter­fere in our elec­tion is among the most se­ri­ous. As I said on May 29, this de­serves the at­ten­tion of every Amer­i­can.”

Per­haps this sounds fa­mil­iar. It should. One day ear­lier, cur­rent FBI Direc­tor Christo­pher Wray made a sim­i­larly chill­ing point. In Se­nate tes­ti­mony, he said Rus­sia was pre­par­ing to hack and pro­pa­gan­dize the 2020 elec­tion de­spite U.S. sanc­tions and other ef­forts. “They haven't been de­terred enough,” Wray said.

Given these dire warn­ings, the lessons of 2016 and the fears of a 2020 re­peat, one might as­sume that Congress and the White House would be do­ing ev­ery­thing within their col­lec­tive power to make sure that nei­ther Rus­sia nor China nor any other for­eign power that might ben­e­fit from un­der­min­ing the next U.S. elec­tion would be pre­vented from do­ing so. And, of course, you would be ex­actly wrong. The cur­rent scan­dal of the Mueller probe is not how it's been mis­rep­re­sented or politi­cized, it's how its chief find­ing has been ig­nored by those in power. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment's ef­forts to pro­tect the 2020 elec­tion to date have been mod­est at best.

You want to point a finger? Start with Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, who has re­fused to al­low his cham­ber to take up the bi­par­ti­san Se­cure Elec­tions Act. He claims the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has ap­pro­pri­ated suf­fi­cient funds to states for them to pro­tect the process. What non­sense. There are still a hand­ful of states (Ge­or­gia, Louisiana and South Carolina) that lack a pa­per trail to back up dig­i­tal sys­tems. An­other 10 have only a par­tial pa­per trail. In re­al­ity, it's costly to re­place ag­ing vot­ing equip­ment and well be­yond the $380 mil­lion Wash­ing­ton ap­pro­pri­ated for that pur­pose last year.

And that's just about di­rect ma­nip­u­la­tion of votes. There's also the mat­ter of hack­ing into email or us­ing so­cial me­dia ac­counts un­der false names to ma­nip­u­late pub­lic opin­ion, as the Rus­sians did so suc­cess­fully three years ago.

And then there's Trump, who seems to be­lieve that any ac­knowl­edge­ment of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in 2016 dele­git­imizes his pres­i­dency and so he has fre­quently dis­agreed with his own ad­min­is­tra­tion over ex­actly what hap­pened and what to do about next year.

In a meet­ing with Vladimir Putin just last month, the pres­i­dent was once again mak­ing light of the is­sue, wag­ging a finger at the Rus­sian pres­i­dent, who was laughing all the while. What good sport it must be to put the planet's most im­por­tant democ­racy at risk to the ben­e­fit of a for­eign ad­ver­sary.

You can al­ways laugh at how of­ten the spe­cial coun­sel felt he had to keep his mouth shut and de­clined to an­swer. But what is not the least bit funny is what all Amer­i­cans should be fo­cused on right now – in­sist­ing on a free, fair and clean elec­tion in 2020.

That's what the Mueller tes­ti­mony re­ally un­der­scores, but it's in dan­ger of get­ting lost for all the in­side-the-Belt­way spin.

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